I approached Made in America at the Théâtre du Train Bleu with more than a fair share of skepticism. Perhaps “curiosity” would be a more forgiving word for my sentiments but there was enough a tinge of uncertainty to render my view cynical. With Donald Trump and his clown nose on their advertising campaign I sighed, sadly registering that the ubiquity of Donald Trump apparently knows no boundaries. What is there left to say? Well, apparently a great deal. Through its hour-long vaudeville Made in America fabulously draws out the contours of American fascism .
Over six pieces the performance looks at current events, long-standing American ailments and even dabbles in speculative fiction. Playwright Neil LaBute unflinchingly represents the callousness of casual white supremacy, which is leaking further and further into popular discourse. Where I usually take umbrage with political works not featuring people of color, here exclusion is a purposeful tool.
Adrienne Ollé’s direction is fabulously vaudevillian. She never falls into self-importance. Also, her macabre sense of humor somehow escapes ironic distance. These figures don’t seem like caricatures, however awful, they seem quotidian. We are getting the chance to hear what people are thinking, unfiltered. "How Brave" two white men say to a third when he says he'd choose black people if he had to exterminate a group. Blatant racism in this world is seen as strong honesty. It isn't seen as a problem to be solved.
Helping is the wonderful cast of four actors. Léa Marie-Saint Germain makes the complicity of white women in the election of a proud sexual assailant at once grounded and as absurd as that fact is. Pierre Yvon presents an extreme caricature of President Trump, which isn’t easy as the man is a performance of a performance of himself. Kevin Chamotte starts the performance strong, playing “The Star Spangled Banner” on the guitar and then delicately accompanying a video of Billie Holiday performing “Strange Fruit.” This works surprisingly well. Aurélien Gouas gets the last word in, leaving us with the hope that American democracy can offer when it’s used with compassion. Lastly, Vivien Lenon’s lighting design is exuberant and engaging.
Admittedly the bookends of the piece could perhaps use a touch of fine-tuning. The opening scene comes off a bit strong, giving us a tad too much of what we expect, and the hopeful closing scene, however well acted, could use a bit more framing to bring it a cohesion with the rest of the evening. Though, these concerns are both personal and, if wished to be addressed, entirely addressable. Ultimately Made in America astutely connects the dots between blind patriotism, apathy, greed, and authoritarianism. All of these qualities are supremely common, supremely American, and supremely disconcerting.